Actors, actresses, producers, writers, directors, executives, and those who do their dirty work are jumping up and down on the casting couch, attempting to trample it once and for all.
The salacious details emerging over film producer Harvey Weinstein’s alleged sexual assaults on actresses, writers, models, and journalists in The New York Times and The New Yorker sound as though they’ve sprung from the pages of The National Enquirer, “TMZ” or “Access Hollywood.” The facts of each incident, as reported by Weinstein’s victims, read like scenes in a bad episode of “Law and Order: SVU.” But this is no screenplay, nor is it a story about the dark side of Hollywood.
Major industry organizations like the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Producers Guild of American have revoked Weinstein’s membership. The British Film Institute just stripped him of the highest honor they can bestow. Threats of further legal action and the possibility that criminal investigations may be launched loom on the horizon. Too little, too late.
Sexual misconduct by people in power has made the news repeatedly in recent years. We have heard allegations of assault against the likes of the president, comedian Bill Cosby and many other well-known performers including, most recently, the brothers Affleck. These allegations have repeatedly been denied, ignored, swept under the carpet, or buried in as deep a hole as a backhoe can dig. Intimidation, threats of reprisals, and legal action have been taken. Careers have been threatened. Payoffs have been made.
Accusers of Weinstein and the president have been called liars and opportunists. Despite stunning audio recordings and, in Cosby’s case, depositions that reveal all too clearly both their attitudes and actions, defenders of these men – and they still have them – continue to be supportive.
Sexual impropriety is not a partisan issue. It is perpetrated by Republicans, Democrats, Independents, liberals and conservatives; men and women, famous and otherwise. It takes place in boardrooms, around the water cooler, and in barrooms, restaurants, and fancy hotel suites.
Reports of environments hostile to women have emerged in seemingly progressive bastions like Silicon Valley. There, the behavior is part of what has been labeled “Bro Culture.” It has been conspicuous at the headquarters of Über, but has also been found in the offices of other well-known tech brands many of the venture capital firms who fund them.
Similar episodes have long been experienced by government workers, by women and men who serve in our nation’s armed forces, and in law enforcement agencies. Sexual assaults occur at colleges and universities. The sports world – especially at the college and amateur level – is rife with tales of harassment and assault. Days ago, Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney disclosed that the team’s doctor had molested her for years.
Sexual harassment and abuse is not solely a physical act. With these latest revelations, we must also address what constitutes “locker room talk” or “boys being boys” and acknowledge that words and suggestive comments may be just as gut-wrenching and violating to the victim as any bodily intrusion; sticks and stones be damned. Any man or woman who has ever made an untoward sexual remark or gesture toward or in the presence of a member of the opposite or same sex is complicit in this behavior.
It would be hypocritical of me to address this topic without confessing my own culpability. I have made tactless, inappropriate remarks and insensitive comments in the past that I deeply regret. It requires effort, understanding, and mindfulness to keep impulsive language at bay. I do my best. If you are a man or woman who has done so and choose to remain in denial or ignore your own past actions, I urge you to look in the mirror at your earliest opportunity.
The aggressive behavior attributed to Harvey Weinstein is especially disheartening for those who have benefited from his financial and professional largesse. Perhaps even more so due to his support of liberal social and political causes many of them hold dear. But sexual harassment and abuse is apolitical. It is as equally unacceptable for Hollywood producers and others in powerful positions as it is for the president.
The growing number of Harvey Weinstein’s alleged victims may take some solace in knowing they are not alone, that their stories are being corroborated, and their courage to come forward may be a defining moment in the battle to confront sexual assault, intimidation, and harassment in the workplace and in our society. It would be nice if episodes like this will one day be nothing more than a bad flashback, a distant memory that fades to black. That, unfortunately, is unlikely. It would be too much of a Hollywood ending.
Blair Bess is a Los Angeles-based television writer, producer, and columnist. He edits the online blog Soaggragated.com, and can be reached at BBess.firstname.lastname@example.org.